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Two years on from the s54 of the Modern Slavery Act (Section 54, the transparency in supply chains clause), it is a good time to reflect on how Modern Slavery is being tackled within the Construction industry.

We all recognise that the construction sector is a major employer accounting for approximately 7% of the global workforce. It includes many skilled and unskilled workers who design infrastructure and physically build it, making the industry labour-intensive. Migrant workers are a typical feature of this industry globally as construction cannot be outsourced and delivery of projects in cycles benefits from the ‘short-term’ contributions of migrants. The business model is characterised by subcontracting at all levels and often informal working arrangements for those found at the lowest tiers where the work is hard and the pay is low.

All of which make it a high risk for modern slavery and forced labour, so how is the sector responding?
An analysis of published statements by Ergon Associates shows that:

  • The construction sector is lagging behind other sectors
  • Coverage is limited, statements only report on UK businesses even if they are Global
  • The statement may be seen as a compliance exercise
  • Very few statements consider any risk assessment
  • Of those that do, over 65% do not disclose any specific risks

However there have been great strides within the sector to tackle modern slavery:

  • Implementation of the Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard developed by BRE
  • Mark Heath from the GLAA launching the GLAA Construction Protocol
  • The Modern Slavery and UK Construction Sector Industry Charter, championed by Chris Blythe, CIOB
  • Development of a range of tools, materials and training to support the sector through the Action Sustainability and Stronger Together
  • Collaboration and research into a risk based approach to managing a responsible sourcing programme like the one developed by Ryan Lynch at BSI
  • A wide range of risk assessment and due diligence tools
  • Positive practice by key bodies in championing of illegal and unethical practices
  • The  Modern Slavery & Ethical Labour in Construction Leadership Symposium in November 2016.

The second annual symposium taking place on Anti-Slavery Day, 18 October, 2017, in the Telford Theatre and Great Hall at the esteemed One Great George Street, Westminster, Central London, SW1P 3AA, will provide a platform to hear more about all of the work being designed and delivered within the sector by Industry and Modern Slavery experts.

This will be an opportunity to hear from the key champions of tackling modern slavery such as Baroness Young and Cindy Bergman from ETI as well as understanding the collaborative work being carried out by RIBA, IEMA, RCIS and the Supply Chain Sustainability School, receiving first hand advice and guidance on what the industry must do to ensure ethical labour sourcing.

We will also hear from Marshalls, Sir Robert McAlpine, and Landsec on how they are developing and implementing best practice to meet compliance requirements and electing to go beyond the legislative minimum to mitigate their risks.

This full day event promises to deliver on changes in legislation, programmes of activity but what makes this event stand out from others is the first hand experience from the sector and the chance to better understand how the collaborative initiatives from a coalition of organisations will bring about sustainable change within the sector.

We cannot do it alone, together we can tackle modern slavery in construction.
For more information or to register for the event, go to www.msa4construction.com

 

Sonia Gandhi
About the Author
I am an experienced corporate social responsibility professional with a background in sustainability, ethics & equality and human rights policy. I successfully deliver organisational change to support each company or clients individual objectives.

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